The first two weeks on the job have been quite busy for Gov. Rick DeSantis.
On Thursday he made headlines again by announcing he wants the Legislature to rewrite state law lifting the ban on smoking marijuana that affects the 170,000 patients who are part of the state’s medical marijuana program.
Friday afternoon he announced he was removing Palm Beach County Election Supervisor Susan Bucher from office because of the problems experienced by her office during the November recount.
Since taking office on January 8, DeSantis has introduced new policy and new spending to protect the Everglades and the state’s water quality, called for the resignation of the entire board of the South Florida Water Management District, suspended other elected officials, made two visits to the eastern Panhandle to reassure victims of Hurricane Michael they have not been forgotten, pardoned four black men known as the Groveland Four who were wrongly accused of, tortured and some them killed for raping a white woman.
DeSantis also has appointed two new justices — Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, both from the 3rd District Court of Appeal — to the Florida Supreme Court, leaving one vacancy to be filled.
The three new members of the state’s highest court are expected to give the court a more conservative slant than it has seen in years.
“Governor Desantis is changing the FL Supreme Court from one of the most liberal courts in America to likely the most conservative,” Congressman Matt Gaetz, a close supporter of DeSantis, posted on Twitter earlier in the week.
And that is giving new hope to conservative groups that have seen laws dealing with issues such as abortion, education reform and tort reform, struck down in recent years when the court had a more liberal lean.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told a Sarasota business group earlier this week that a more conservative court that will likely embolden lawmakers to push “some issues that in the past we probably wouldn’t have.”
And that causes concern for those groups who benefited from the more liberal court of the past.
“We cannot go back to a time when people were discriminated against, when women didn’t have control of their bodies, and when children didn’t have equal opportunity in school,” said Terri Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party. “We have hope that anyone who takes the oath of Florida’s highest court does so knowing that their duty is to uphold the Constitution, not make personal and politically motivated judgments.”
Rizzo points to a bill filed last week that would severely restrict abortions in Florida. The legislation would make it a third-degree felony for a doctor to perform an abortion if a fetal heartbeat could be detected.
“This bill is the harshest attack yet on women’s reproductive rights by Florida Republicans,” Rizzo says. ”We will fight to see that this legislation never becomes law in Florida.”
If it does become law, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, is confident about its chances if it’s challenged in the more conservative Florida Supreme Court.
“We think we can start overturning a lot of these abortion rulings that are killing the unborn,” he said.
Galvano says education reform issues that were struck down in the past will likely resurface as a result of the makeup of the high court.
“You’ll probably see some more bold steps in education and revisiting some of the ideas that Gov. Bush brought to the table back in the day,” Galvano said. He says that could include proposals to expand school vouchers that were ruled unconstitutional in the past.
Given the fact that Republicans still control the Governor’s Office, the Legislature and now with the more conservative nature of the state Supreme Court, there’s not much Democrats and liberal groups can do about the political situation in Tallahassee.
Having lost on the political front, Democrats are focusing their efforts on the racial make up of the court. There are currently no African American justices. Rizzo is calling on DeSantis to use his last appointment to change that.
“As Governor DeSantis prepares to make his final pick to the Supreme Court, it is deeply concerning to us that for the first time in over 35 years there wouldn’t be an African American Justice,” Rizzo said. “We urge the Governor to expand his pool of candidates to include qualified judges who represent Florida’s diversity.”